NANCY — Review by Cate Marquis

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nancy posterAndrea Riseborough plays a young woman who lives a life barely connected to reality in director Christina Choe’s Nancy. Nancy is is a lonely person, more connected to her cell phone and her online life than her life of caring for her sickly, complaining mother Betty (Ann Dowd) in the run-down home they share. Mom criticizes and complains to her daughter about being neglected but Nancy can barely break away from the fantasy life she prefers to the grim real one with her mother. Continue reading…

Away from her mom, Nancy writes stories but can’t seem to get them published. Online, she uses her gift for fiction as a “catfisher,” posing as someone she is not to spin elaborate tales to draw others in for emotional connections. At her new job, Nancy again re-invents herself, telling her new co-workers she recently visited North Korea and then produces a series of photo-shopped pictures to “prove” she was there. Nancy is not very present in her own sad constricted life but she is a master at impersonation.

It isn’t really clear whether Nancy herself believes the stories she invents on some level or if she just enjoys the human warmth she can evoke with them. When Nancy’s mother dies, she is even more disconnected. Watching the news, Nancy sees a report about a couple, Ellen (J. Smith-Cameron) and Leo (Steve Buscemi), marking the 30th anniversary of the disappearance of their daughter, and Nancy is struck by how much the age-progression photo of the long-lost child looks like her. When Nancy contacts the couple, we are not sure if she believes she is their daughter or if it is another impersonation.

Director Christina Choe spins out her intriguing yarn with careful precision, keeping us guessing about Nancy and about whether she is the long-lost daughter. She is greatly aided by the film’s strong cast.\ and the affecting characters they create. Despite her deceits, Riseborough’s Nancy is often a pitiful figure, maybe a delusional one, but her opaqueness means we still have doubts. J. Smith-Cameron’s Ellen is touching in how much she wavers between guarding her heart and wanting to believe, while Steve Buscemi’s Leo is much more skeptical. The characters dance around each other, and the hints and questions the situation raises, keeping us involved as the tale plays out.

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Cate Marquis

Cate Marquis is a film critic and historian based in the St. Louis, Missouri area. Marquis reviews film for the St. Louis Jewish Light weekly newspaper and Playback: stl website, as well as other publications. The daughter of artist Paul Marquis, she was introduced to classic and silent films by her father, as well as art and theater. Besides reviewing films, she lectures on film history, particularly the silent film era, has served on the board of the Meramec Classic Film Festival and is a long-time collaborator with the St. Louis International Film Festival, serving on various juries.